Entries in Marks and Spencer (74)

Saturday
Aug202016

Friends together around the table that's the Spirit of Summer

 

Summer is coming to a close leaves are colouring, some are falling, there is crispness to the air and the air smells smokier, Fall will be here all too soon. Yet we are in August and still the sky is grey and a lid of cloud covers the earth.  Summer has been summer in nothing but name.  Days of endless grey.

Well ... how has your summer been?  Did we manage to get through our to do lists, some things yes, some things like crow pose are are a practice that will take me longer than a couple of months.  And, yet each time I move into the pose, I feel myself a little closer than I was yesterday.  I notice the tiny sometimes called incidental transitions and movements.  This for me is what summer has been about watching and being aware and a part of the tiny changes.  Noticing they are happening, life is happening, days move by and we 'do life' we 'practice' at some things, let books and stories absorb us.  I loved this Rob Bell, this Dorothea Benton Frank, this Mary Alice Monroe, this Pete Greig, this Sunstein and Thaler, this Maeve Binchy, among others.  It's also been a time of waiting and recovery after a car accident.

What we need to get to the end through to September and the new year, at least in the Hebraic calendar is friends around the table eating great summery flavours, accompanied by delicious coolers and listening to some love Bossa Nova.

Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer range have excellent ingredients to create a feast inspired by the Southern States of the USA and South America.  Their product developers have been scoured the Americas in search of authentic flavours and they found them, packaged them and have them instore ready for you to eat. We’ve explored Peruvian markets, got our hands dirty at the fire pit restaurants of Texas and delved into Cajun cuisine in New Orleans

Summer is coming to a close leaves are colouring, some are falling, there is crispness to the air and the air smells smokier, Fall will be here all too soon. Yet we are in August and still the sky is grey and a lid of cloud covers the earth.  Summer has been summer in nothing but name.  Days of endless grey.  Yet thanks to Marks and Spencer we can eat authentic flavours from the Americas.

So why not right now, before you read the rest of this post - get on the phone and invite your friends over for lunch or supper tomorrow or dinner later in the week to celebrate all that summer has been, because summer has been lots of things to lots of people and there most definitely are stories to share.  Then pop into M&S to stock up on some of these beauties, because where is the best place to share those stories - around your table, in your home.

 I began a love affair recently.  

With Flamingos.  

As well as napkins, drawings, and a beautiful piece of art created for me by my sister of a flamingo - I even have flamingo fairy lights and blow up flamingo glass holders to hold, you guessed it flamingo glasses.  

Whatever kitcsh you like - get it out and dress your table.  Hang out in the party section of the store and pick up parrot cocktail sticks, drink floats and lots of candles or fairy lights, as well as some paper plates and plastic glasses.  Make this party you are throwing as easy as possible, it is summer after all.  Save the fancy linen, silver spoons and crystal for the Autumn when we need some sparkle in our lives.

 Start by creating an antipasti platter using Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer ingredients, you can read about how I did this here.

 

Then add bowls of Marks and Spencer salads which are the bar that all restaurants need to meet for me to say I ate a good salad in an eating place.

For nut lovers the Quinoa, avocado and brazil nut salad with a mango and amarillo chilli dressing is a must.  It is fresh and fiesty.

 

 

 The Spirit of Summer Mexican Rice, Quinoa and Avacado salad has a chilli lime dressing that is so morish - you'll definitely eat more than this than you think.

 Caprese Salad - more commonly known in these parts as basil, mozzerella and tomato is a firm favourite, but please please make sure you get good ingredients.  Bursting with flavour red juicy tomatoes, silky smooth buffalo mozzerella and torn not chopped basil for maximum flavour.

 The Rice, Aduki Bean, Mango and Coconut salad is a firm favourite with its sweet, sour flavour and fluffy rice.

 These Melting Marks and Spencer Mozzarella sticks in a crisp crumb are morish - always have twice as much as you think you need.  Serve them with circles of lime rind and a sour cream dip spiked with garlic.

 Chips and dips are everyone's favourite and a great food to serve at nearly anytime - Salt and Sparkle are loving these dips from the Spirit of Summer Range at Marks and Spencer.

Sweetcorn Chilli

My all time favourite like a thicker and more flavoursome sweet chilli sauce - Spicy Malagueta Chill Dip, it is hot and fiery and popular in Brazil.

Cooling Mint Yogurt Dip - Middle East inspired this is fresh and cooling

Sweet Chilli Dip - a tomato based chilli dip

Sour Cream and Chive dip

Tomato Salsa

Dipping bread or other finger food ingredients is a brilliant way to eat and share food, because its enjoyable to dip and eat.  To add extra flavour to each mouthful.

 Do you love Mac and Cheese?  Well then you are going to adore - mac and cheese bites is a crisp crumb, add some spicy Malagueta Chill Dip to bring a sour spice to the sweet cheese bites.

 These sweetcorn empanadas with a sweetcorn and black bean filling are crisp in the first bite reliving a smooth sweet almost silky centre with a slight chew.

 Who doesn't love potato skins, these Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer Potato skins are filled with mature cheddar cheese, smoked bacon and scallions.

 I first had Queso Pimento Chilli Cheese dip in Florida and I couldn't get enough of it.  Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer Queso  Dip is the best on the high street, it is smoky, creamy and spicy - definitely have more than one as it will disappear in a flash.

 Who can resist a wedge salad - bacon bits, crisp of course, iceberg or romaine, ranch dressing, croutons, cubes of cucmber and tomatoes - no one I know.

 And now for something sweet ... Marks and Spencer have created the best deserts on the high street.  I know I say this alot but it is true.  I was at a restaurant earlier this week and the pudding went back to the kitchen with two bites from it, when the table was cleared because it was so bad.

Marks and Spencer - now they have got it right - restauranteurs take note and get the puddings right at your restaurant.

 Coconut and Chocolate slice - is rich, glossy and deccadant, and can easily be sliced into cubes and served in bitesized pieces.  

 Wibble Wobble Wibble Wobble jelly on a plate - this Spirit of Summer Jelly is stunning.  I loved it.  Again restaurants take note you aren't competing with the store down the street  you are competing with Marks and Spencer - as we can get puddings this good at home we expect to be able to get them in your restaurant.

The Marks and Spencer Pineapple, Guava and Cranadilla flavoured jelly with pineapple, raspberries, pomegranate and a passion fruit dresssing is bursting with sweet flavours.  It is bright and bold, smooth, slippery and delightfully cooling.  Serve it with chocolate or without because it is perfect on its own.

 

Mix your own drinks or pop a bottle of this Caipirinha.

Go on invite your friends over and celebrate your stories and your Spirit of Summer.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Aug192016

Sláinte - it's a Friday Summer Cooler 2016

Slainte it's Friday - how has your week been, has it been long?  Are you ready for the weekend?

Well this Friday cocktail has got your back and all bases covered.  It's a winner alright.

 It's time to put some booze in the blender.

 In this case Marks and Spencer Coconut and Lime Rum, then mix it up with these refreshing Spirit of Summer coolers. And ice, of course ice.  Who could forget ice.

This Caribbean flavoured rum is fresh and light, mixed with these coolers it creates a zingy frozen drink - really like an adult slush puppy. My favourite is the Marks and Spencer summer sour.

Make the mix by adding 3 cups of Marks and Spencer Coconut and Lime Rum to three cups of ice in a blender, then add your choosen Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer cooler, or mix all three together for extra zing, adding more rum as you feel the need.  And on a Friday when the sun goes down - there's always a need. Right!

 

Then add lime twists and umbrellas.  Always add umbrellas they are kitsch and fun.  And Fridays - well they are all about fun.

Happy Friday!

That's it for now ...

Nics 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Jul022016

Pizza Prosecco and Parties

 

It was July in 1991 and I remember having pizza for the first time.  We ate at tables on the street as traffic whizzed by.  Boards with discs covered in melted cheese that rose in balloon like shapes were placed in front of us. Still today I remember the taste of thin crisp chewy crust, spikey tomato sauce and billowly mozzerella and my feeling a love affair had begun.

Since the good pizza has been my favourite food and a staple for parties. Universally popular there are few people who don't like pizza which makes it an endearingly popular choice to serve for gatherings of people. Whether you cook it yourself, order in or serve the best pizza on the high street from Marks and Spencer the key is to have lots of pizza a large salad and plenty to drink.

Marks and Spencer have a deal I love when it comes to planning parties - pizza and prosecco for £10.  It is my friends time to stock up.

Prosecco is the natural choice of alcohol to serve with pizza.  It's fresh fizz and acidity cut through the gooey cheese and tomato flavours.  It is also a drink with bubbles that adds some fun and celebration to a meal.  

I stocked up on Marks and Spencer pizza and prosecco to serve at a little dinner for my friends birthday.  The Marks and Spencer wood fired pizzas come in several flavours


Conte Priuli Prosecco

The Conte Priuli Prosecco from Marks and Spencer is a summery bottle of bubbles from the foothills of the Alps in north eastern Italy.  It has peachy mid tones with a lemon finish, and a surprisingly creamy efferverscence. With its low alcohol, bright flavors, and gentle fizz the Conte Priuli Prosecco makes for a great pairing for pizza.  It also adds some celebration due to its bubbles to a meal.

 Marks and Spencer wood fired pizzas are in my opinion the best ready-made pizza, on the High Street with both texture and flavour as close to the real thing as you will get at home.  The dough was created by the Marks and Spencer food developers after visits to Italy to create an authencitiy in the base which is blasted in a wood-fired oven before the toppings are added.  With these pizzas there is the right amount of filling and topping and the crisp base makes them a joy to eat.

 In Italy pizza is traditionally served with beer or even coke, as Italians like to have something sparkling to drink with their pizza.  Having checked with my Italian friends who would be quick to disapprove of anything they think is a bastardisation, they are all in agreement that prosecco and pizza is an enjoyable combination.  

 

 

 

 I served the pizzas with a wild rocket, Irish Strawberry, parmesan, lime and caramelised salad.  This easy to prepare salad brings fire, freshness and flakiness to your plate of pizza.

To make this salad, toss two bags of Marks and Spencer wild rocket, with 1 cup of grated parmesan (use a mircoplane grater), the juice of two limes, and one punnet of Irish strawberries that have been hulled, washed and quartered.  Toss the ingredients together, then add some caramelised balsamic vinger, french bread croutons and flakes of parmesan and serve.  I recommend dressing this salad only moments before serving to ensure it does not go soggy.

 

After all that pizza folks don't want a heavy desert, but they do want something sweet.  Taking my cue from my Vietamnese family who always serve watermelon and fresh fruit at the end of dinner, I created a fruit platter.Of  fresh Marks and Spencer Raspberries and Strawberries, scattered with salted chocolate fudge balls and coconut meringues is a light, sweet and fresh finish.  Place a large platter in the middle of the table and let people help themselves.

 

 That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Saturday
Jun182016

Meringues with strawberries 

The secret to meringues is that you want them to dehydrate rather than cook.

Serve them with Marks and Spencer strawberries and Cornish Clotted cream

 

Meringues Recipe

 Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites
  • 6oz golden caster sugar
  • 3 - 4 tsp Rose Extract or vanilla

 

Oven 170' Aga floor on bottom oven / Preheat the oven to fan 100C/ conventional 110C/gas 1⁄4.

You can place the meringues on a lightly oiled baking sheet before cooking on a silicon mat or I find using a lined pizza tray or stone works well.

Method

1. Whisk egg whites slowly in an electric mixer or with an electric had mixer, use a high sided bowl, until very firm. You should be able to hold bowl upside down & nothing drops out - children love it when you do this over their heads.

2. Mix in 3/4 sugar on low speed, adding only a little at a time. The mix should look really glossy.

3. Fold in the rest of the sugar using a figure of eight motion

4. Fold in the rose extract or vanilla

5.Spoon large dollops onto a preprepared baking tray ensuring space has been left between the  meringues and then cook

6.  Bake for 1 1⁄2- 2 hours in a fan oven, 1 1⁄4 hours in a conventional or gas oven, and up to 2 hours in the Aga.  The meringues are ready when they sound crisp when tapped hours

Saturday
Jun112016

Simple, sensational Father's Day dinner

Chefs have mourned my lack of interest in creating perfect plates of food. Yet they celebrated my cooking by eating every mouthful of the food I put in front of them.  And, I have cooked for a lot of chefs some of them so called celebrities others Michelin starred.  

What I do and I do very well is cook food people enjoy eating.  And that is exactly what is the key to a cooking a good meal for your Daddy on Father's Day.

Cooking something he will love eating!  Not simply something you think he will like, something you will know he will like.  And, cooking food like this starts with brilliant ingredients.  Produce from a store that supports our local farmers and artisan food producers Marks and Spencer.

My Daddy likes Shiraz red wine, steak and potatoes.  He's like a lot of Irish Ulstermen of his generation, in fact like many men today - red meat and potatoes.  He loves Shiraz, any other type of red wine is immediately judged against this big bold flavour.  For Father's day I cooked him Marks and Spencer Aberdeen Angus fillet steak from a local farm in Northern Ireland.  Served with comber spuds and  grilled tomatoes.  Mushrooms and sweet onions cooked in butter with chunks of soft garlic.  Served with a very special Marks and Spencer wine made by Belinda King, its a big bold red wine made from his favourite grape Shiraz, from the South of Eastern Australia.

To ease into the meal I served him potato chips and almonds from Spain from the Marks and Spencer range of artisan producers.

When you are cooking huge big and often heavy foods you don't need a starter, something simple to nibble on. Something salty that tantalises the tastebuds and adds a grumbling to the belly, as it smells the scents wafting from the kitchen of grilling meat, and onions sauted soaked in butter with garlic.

This wine is from South Australia's Barossa Valley in Australia where the shiraz grape is a local speciality is one of the most important wine regions in the country.  This Marks and Spencer wine is rich and spicy yet smooth and silky.  The winemaker Matt Gant has aged this wine in American oak barrels which I feel lends to its creaminess.

 

 

 

 


 Boiled baby Comber Potatoes, Bearnise Sauce and grilled tomatoes complete the meal.

 

How do you like your steak?  I used to eat mine blue, my Daddy has always loved his as well done.  In a time honoured Irish way he loves his steak succulent juicy and crumbly.  He does not like red bloody meat.  He loves it almost caramelised on the outside.  The way to cook a steak like this is on the hottest grilled pan ever, letting it cook for about 5 minutes on one side then turning it over for another five minutes, leaving it to rest then under a dome of tinfoil.  Letting steak rest before eating allows the fibres of the meat to relax making it more pleasurable to eat.

Daddy's opinion on his Father's Day dinner 'That a was great feed, really enjoyed it.  I like how Marks and Spencer support our Farmers here in Northern Ireland.'

For ideas on what to serve for pudding on Father's Day check back tomorrow.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
May162016

Sláinte Coconut, lime, Pineapple & Rum Cooler

Summer needs long cool drinks - especially when the weather is hot and sticky, and the journey home from work is humid and yucky - the scent of BBQ and an iced drink in hand, suddenly makes the world feel like a big better place.

This Lime and Coconut Rum from Marks and Spencer is a brilliant base for a long cool drink that couldn't be quicker or easier.

Squeeze four limes into the bottom of a large jug, pack full of ice - pour over 2 cups of this rum to 3 cups of pineapple juice, stir and serve.

Now what could possibly be nicer after work than sitting in the garden chatting with a drink like this as the BBQ smokes.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle  = Life Remarkable

Sunday
May152016

BBQ season begins 2016 with Marks and Spencer - Spirit of Summer

 Summer has finally come to Ireland.  Temperatures have started to rise, rain has been banished and BBQ's have been dusted off and lit.  Hazey skies are filled with sweet smoke and scents of grilling meat.  There is nothing like it.  I would BBQ 365 days a year, it is without doubt my favourite way to cook.  Social, enjoying - outside and relaxing.  If you are new to BBQs or want to brush up on your skills check out my Top Ten BBQ tips - refined and developed in nearly 30 years at the grill.

Marks and Spencer Spirit of Summer range is full of the delicious flavours of the American Southern States - BBQ capitals  - and the South Americas.  The product developers have travelled widely and created a range that is delicious.  Our favourites include the Jamaican spatchcocked chicken which had a pimento chilli and Rum rich spice rub/marinade.  The meat was succulent and well flavoured.

We always serve slices of grilled pineapple at a BBQ.  Not only is it delicious there are health benefits too - the pineapples enezymes breakdown the fatty tissues of meat making it easier to digest. 

 

 The Louisian BBQ Spatchies came with a tangly BBQ sauce that when grilled caramelised and enriched the flavour of the tender chicken.

Marks and Spencer understand BBQ and the need for things to be spatchcocked for easy grilling.

 Always keep an orderly grill - don't just whack everything on in a haphazard method - check out my top ten BBQ tips for more BBQ essentials

 Boys love BBQing - men and fire, it goes the whole way back to ancient prehistoric times ...

 

 

 Eating outside is simply glorious and relaxed.  We aim for chillaxed atmosphere's which creates its own genuine form of perfection.  There is no striving to get everything right.  Marks and Spencer have taken all the hard work out of the cooking - and while I love preparing meat etc for the BBQ from scratch my increasingly busy lifestyle means I have a choice to make.  Be chained to the stove cooking from scratch or enjoy my downtime with the fabulous Spirit of Summer BBQ Range from Marks and Spencer, that allows me to actually chillax, rather than simply create the atmosphere for everyone else.

 Jumping off walls is the perfect way to wait for food to cook.

 Chicken skewers with lemon and bay have a fresh zesty filled sweet taste.

 Smokehouse Pork Links - are a German style sausage, they have a firm texture and a rich flavour.

We cook down several finely sliced onions in a smoke encrusted BBQ frying pan, to create sticky fried onions that are a superb match for the Marks and Spencer Vension Burgers.

 

 Condiments are an essential part of BBQ and this year as always, Marks and Spencer have it covered.  We particularly loved their Amarillo Ranch Chilli - perfect for dipping sausages into.

 

 Waiting for the BBQ to be ready and the food to be cooked is hard work - it calls for a refreshing long cool drink  - try this pineapple and coconut Rum Punch - or Strawberry Margaritas.

I serve big bowls of crisps - like these Marks and Spencer Tennessee Smoked Rib Chips and these Cajun Spiced Plantain Chips, with some Pineapple and Mint salsa, which is also excellent with BBQ'd lamb.

 

 Set up a build your own burger bar - 

Sliced  Baps

Slices of cheese

Little Gem Lettuce Leaves

Sauces

Gerkins

Then add the cooked patties of meat and let folk build their own burgers - Marks and Spencer have a superb range from Salmon to Vension - SteakCheese to Chorizo - there are lots of burgers to chose from.

Pulled pork Burger with salted cured cucumber.

 

 

 Apple Glazed pork rib rack - delicious served with or without its sauce.

 You haven't lived until you have had BBQ'd Halloumi - the chillioumi skewers from Marks and Spencer are a sure fire winner.

Butternut squash sausages - with sweet smoked onions - does it get any better for Veggies at a BBQ - I think not.  Marks and Spencer have it covered. 

After all that meat there is nothing better than a BBQ'D Smoree.  We made ours using Marks and Spencer chilli chocolate cookies and Peanut Cookies, with bbq'd marshmallows skished inside.

 

 

Skewer marshmallows then slowly cook them on the edge of the BBQ on a sheet of tin foil brushed with oil.  

 

 

After all that food in Ireland we always need a cup of tea and a wee bun - these sweet treats from Marks and Spencer, including Lime toffee popcorn are absolutely delicious and a simple elegant way to end the meat feast that is a BBQ.

BBQ is the spirit of summer - I hope you catch the zeitgeist.

Happy BBQing folks - hope you have a summer filled with long lazy hot days, grilled meat and hanging out with family and friends.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable